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U.S. Military’s Authority for Force in Iraq Faces Revision or Repeal

June 14, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Drone strikes and missiles struck near American targets in Iraq only days before Congress on Monday discussed ending its authorization for U.S. troops to use force in the country.

No one in Congress disputes that anti-American forces in Iraq want to kill U.S. soldiers, only whether the troops need to remain there to protect their homeland from another attack like on Sept. 11, 2001.

Legislation proposed in the House and Senate would repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq that created part of the legal authority for a U.S. invasion.

It was directed primarily at Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who the United States had categorized as a state sponsor of terrorism. He was captured by the U.S. military in December 2003 and later hanged.

“The war in Iraq officially ended a decade ago,” said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., chairman of the House Rules Committee. “There’s no reason to keep it on the books.”

The Biden administration agreed in a statement it issued before the committee’s hearing.

The president has other authority to use the military as commander-in-chief, which means repealing the 2002 resolution “would likely have minimal impact on our current military operations,” the statement says.

Nevertheless, Republicans cautioned that the threat from Hussein has ended but others have emerged that still could seriously hurt the United States.

Rather than repealing the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, they want to revise it to reflect the new risks of terrorism. They mentioned attacks in Iraq sponsored by Iran as examples.

“Repeal and replacement should be simultaneous,” said Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas.

He questioned whether Congress should make decisions independently on further engagement in the Middle East without first obtaining more input from top military personnel who are more familiar with the menace posed by al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their Iranian supporters.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said, “In the 19 years since then, it’s apparent that the mission has evolved and changed.”

In the most recent attack, multiple rockets struck at two Iraqi military bases that house U.S.-led coalition troops and contractors last Wednesday. No injuries were reported.

Three of the rockets exploded near a military base next to Baghdad’s airport while another three hit nearby Balad Airbase.

Four days earlier, two drones were shot down at al-Asad Airbase, which also houses American troops. Hours earlier, a rocket struck near the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center. No injuries were reported in either failed attack.

U.S. military leaders were unable to pinpoint the source of the rocket and drone attacks but several indicators were traced back to Iran. 

Al-Asad Airbase, the largest airbase in Iraq, was attacked by missiles from Iran last year after Iran’s most powerful military commander, Qasem Soleimani, was killed in an American- sponsored drone attack.

U.S. military leaders say intelligence reports indicate the Iranians are preparing even more sophisticated weaponry and attacks that could evade American defenses.

Some Democratic lawmakers said Monday that extending the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force would only aggravate tensions rather than reduce the risk to Americans.

“The 2002 AUMF is dangerous tinder if left on the books,” said Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y.

He added, “We’ve completed our responsibility in Iraq.”

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